Continues the Parasha:’So they took-each man his fire pan-and they placed fire under them’, and ‘the ground that was under them split open.The earth opened its mouth and swallowed’ him, and ‘a flame came forth from Hashem, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense’.
Comments the Alshich Hakadosh:’When the people saw the earth swallow these people, and the fire from Hashem which consumed the two hundred and fifty men, they saw how awesome is Hashem, and that he punishes transgressors according to their misdeeds’.
Yet, we then read:’The entire assembly of the Children of Israel complained on the morrow against Moshe and Aaron, saying:YOU killed the people of Hashem!’.
What caused the dramatic ‘turn-around’?
Answers the Ramban:’They accused Moshe and Aaron of setting this ‘test’, knowing that it would lead to the death of the ‘victims’, as Hashem had not told Moshe to do so, but Moshe and Aaron, on their own volition, set this test, which resulted in so many deaths.
‘They could have chosen another, less lethal test than the incense, had they wished to’.
Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl adds:’The people felt that Moshe had not acted בתום לב: in good faith, in setting test of the קטורת, but, rather, saw it as an opportunity to ‘be rid’ of all his opponents in one ‘swoop’, as evidenced by the fact that Hashem had not commanded him to set this test’.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh offers a different reason for their accusation:’You should have limited the test to Korach- and Aaron; then, when Hashem determined that dispute, the two hundred and fifty leaders would have desisted, on seeing the fate of Korach, and would have been spared.
‘By not doing so, but ‘inviting’ them all to participate at the one time, you ‘killed Hashem’s people’.
Rav Chaim miChernowitz comments that the substance of the accusation that ‘you killed Hashem’s people’ was that:’You did not tell them במפורש: explicitely, that whoever is not of the seed of Aaron is forbidden to offer the קטורת.
‘Rather, you, Moshe, said:’This do, take firepans, and place on them קטורת..the man whom Hashem will choose, he is the holy one’.
‘This suggested that the matter was in doubt, and needed to be resolved; therefore each one of them thought to himself:Perhaps I will be the chosen one.
‘Consequently, each one participated, and, therefore, you, as it were, ‘killed Hashem’s people’.
‘You should have said clearly that it was ‘forbidden’ for anyone other than the seed of Aaron to serve Hashem by offering קטורת, as you did at the end, when you said, that these fire-pans which now covered the Altar, served ‘as a reminder to the Children of Israel, that no alien who is not of the offspring of Aaron shall draw near to bring up the smoke of the incense before Hashem, that he be not like Korach and his assembly’, they would have been saved.
‘However, in defence of Moshe, since they did not believe that he appointed Aaron only because he was commanded to do so by Hashem, they would assuredly not believe any warning that he issued, saying that he only did so to dissuade them from seeking the position, so that it remained with Aaron’.
A final answer by Rav Zalman Sorotzkin:’In fact, Moshe did warn them, as implicit in his words:’The man whom Hashem will choose, he is THE holy one’, is the warning that only he would live, and all the others would perish.
‘Wise men, like the two hundred and fifty ‘leaders of the assembly’, did not require explicit warning, more so after they had seen the fate of Nadav and Avihu, who perished when they offered קטורת which had not been commanded by Hashem’.
לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.